Polish ex-intelligence official says time for truth on CIA jail

WARSAW – A growing weight of information gathered by rights groups, lawyers and parliamentary inquiries suggests that Poland allowed its NATO ally the United States from around 2003 to detain al Qaeda suspects in a facility in a northern Polish forest. Human rights campaigners say Poland was part of a network of states involved in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities by al Qaeda.

Poland’s official stance of denying it hosted a secret CIA jail is harming its reputation and it needs to be frank about what really happened, a senior intelligence official at the time the alleged prison was operating has stated. Marek Siwiec, who headed Poland’s National Security Bureau from 1997 to 2004, during the period when the CIA jail is alleged to have operated, said he wanted to see a Commission of Public Trust set up to expose what happened in Poland. “The poor truth is better than a perfect lie,” said Siwiec, who is now a European Parliament lawmaker.

Siwiec’s call for a full investigation is the closest any senior Polish intelligence official, past or present, has come to acknowledging Poland has a case to answer on the matter. Siwiec was one of several Polish officials, including then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski, named in a 2007 Council of Europe report as people who may be held accountable for knowing about or authorizing a CIA jail. They have all denied any such knowledge or role.

Under Polish and international laws on illegal detention and torture, anybody who knew about or authorized a CIA jail in Poland could be prosecuted and governments could be forced to reveal details of sensitive dealings with U.S. intelligence.

For nearly a decade, official Polish denials about a facility in the forest went largely unchallenged. Rights campaigners say the issue is now nearing a watershed, with new accounts emerging from U.S. intelligence officers and with the European Court of Human Rights expected to rule this year in a case brought against Poland by two men who allege they were held at the facility.

According to a picture drawn from CIA leaks, accounts from inmates and flight records, starting around 2003 al Qaeda suspects were flown to a remote Polish airport and then taken to an intelligence facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty. There, according to the accounts, they were detained without court hearings or access to lawyers and were subjected to interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and mock executions, that rights campaigners say amounted to torture.

The Washington Post newspaper, citing unnamed CIA sources, reported January 23 that the agency paid Polish intelligence at least $15 million to use the Stare Kiejkuty facility. Washington has acknowledged it held al Qaeda suspects in jails outside U.S. jurisdiction but has not revealed where.

– edited from Reuters, January 28, 2014
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Privacy board says NSA snooping program is illegal

WASHINGTON — A government oversight board’s finding on January 23 that the National Security Agency’s massive collection of cellphone data is illegal and should never have been approved by the federal court created to deal with sensitive intelligence issues set off a furor in Washington that presages a bitter battle likely to come in Congress. Even before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released its report, members of Congress were lining up to either praise it or denounce it.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pronounced himself “disappointed” in the report, particularly in the decision of three members of the five-member board to declare the program illegal. He said that move went “well beyond their policy and oversight role.” But the report was heartily endorsed by Rogers’ fellow Republican, Rep. James Sensen-brenner of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and was the author of the USA Patriot Act, under which the NSA collection program was authorized.

Sensenbrenner said the privacy board’s report confirmed his belief that the Patriot Act had been misinterpreted to justify the NSA surveillance program. “This report adds to the growing momentum behind genuine, legislative reform,” he said, adding, in a slap at Obama, that “the president has failed to deliver on his promises of transparency and the protection of our civil liberties. It is up to Congress to rein in abuse and restore trust in our intelligence community.”

Sensenbrenner’s comments were echoed by a senior Senate Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The report reaffirms the conclusion of many that the . . . bulk phone records program has not been critical to our national security, is not worth the intrusion on Americans’ privacy, and should be shut down immediately,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been a staunch defender of the NSA collection of cellphone data.

Created by Congress and appointed by President Obama, the board said that it had found no instance in which the massive collection of Americans’ cellphone records had contributed to thwarting any terrorist operation or to the prosecution of anyone who had engaged in an act of violence. Referring to the section of law under which the NSA program was authorized, the board said, “Our review suggests that the Section 215 program offers little unique value but largely duplicates the FBI’s own information gathering efforts.” Panel members suggested that even the FBI may be overstepping legal bounds through its own data collection programs.

The board also revealed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court did not issue a full legal and constitutional analysis of the program until August 2013, despite having approved the operation since 2006.

The White House defended both the legality and utility of the program. “We simply disagree with the board’s analysis on the legality of the program,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “I can tell you that, as the president said, there’s no question in his mind that this is a useful tool, one of a number of tools that we are able to employ to help protect the United States against terrorist attacks.”

   – edited from McClatchy Washington Bureau, Jan. 23, 2014
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Intelligence collection and the rule of law

Steven Aftergood

“Some of our adversaries will say or do anything to advance their cause; we will not.” That’s what a Top Secret National Security Agency document says, as reported by the New York Times on November 2. But the list of things that U.S. intelligence agencies will not do to support the collection of foreign intelligence is likely to be shorter than the list of things that they will do.

Gathering intelligence means stealing secrets that another country (or other entity) does not wish to reveal. Toward that end, various forms of bribery, burglary, robbery, coercion and other crimes are tacitly understood to be permitted.

In the CIA clandestine service, “hundreds of employees on a daily basis are directed to break extremely serious laws in countries around the world in the face of frequently sophisticated efforts by foreign governments to catch them,” as a 1996 report from the House Intelligence Committee memorably explained.

“A safe estimate is that several hundred times every day (easily 100,000 times a year) DO [CIA Directorate of Operations] officers engage in highly illegal activities (according to foreign law) that not only risk political embarrassment to the U.S. but also endanger the freedom if not lives of the participating foreign nationals and, more than occasionally, of the clandestine officer himself,” the 1996 House report said. “In other words, a typical 28 year old, GS-11 case officer has numerous opportunities every week, by poor tradecraft or inattention, to embarrass his country and President and to get agents imprisoned or executed.”

When secrecy cannot be assured, those risks are magnified nearly everywhere that intelligence collection takes place.

As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on October 29, “There are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback…. The conduct of intelligence is premised on the notion that we can do it secretly and we don’t count on it being revealed in the newspaper.”

General Counsel to the Office of Director of National Intelligence Robert Litt said, “The intelligence community must acknowledge how difficult it is to keep secrets today. In determining what activities to undertake, we need to give more consideration to what the impact of additional leaks would be.” He added, “In each case we have to assess, to a greater extent than we have to date, is the game worth the candle?”

– edited from the Federation of American Scientists,  Project on Government Secrecy, Nov. 4, 2013
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

NSA repeatedly violated its own rules

The National Security Agency repeatedly violated its own rules and secret federal court orders regulating its immense collection of private Americans’ telephone and Internet data and broke pledges to adhere to strict controls, newly declassified documents show. The disclosures raise serious questions about repeated assurances given by senior U.S. intelligence officials to Congress that NSA collection programs never “willfully violated” the laws and rules that regulate them and that any compliance issues have been due only to unintentional human or technological errors.

For example, in a 2009 ruling denying a request by the agency to “access and use” communications data it wasn’t authorized to have, a secret federal court judge criticized the NSA for “longstanding and pervasive violations” of earlier orders restricting the collections. Despite other such findings, however, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed the NSA to restart the Internet and telephone data collection programs after the September 11, 2001, attacks and were aimed at uncovering terrorist plots involving Americans.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asserted that he released the nearly three dozen documents, totaling almost 2,000 pages, on Nov. 18 at President Barack Obama’s behest as part of an ongoing effort to “make public as much information as possible” about top-secret intelligence programs disclosed in leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In fact, however, a court had ordered the government to release the documents as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a rights group.

“It’s amazing that multiple federal judges have excoriated the agency for widespread mismanagement that has led to the violation of untold numbers of Americans’ privacy and yet no one has been held accountable,” said Trevor Timm, an Electronic Frontier Foundation policy analyst. Robert Litt, the intelligence community’s top lawyer, blamed the violations on “complicated technology systems” that “frequently don’t work” as expected.

– edited from McClatchy News, November 19, 2013
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Reagan issued order for NSA’s data collection

The National Security Agency’s collection of information on Americans’ cellphone and Internet usage reaches far beyond the two programs that have received public attention in recent months, back to a presidential order that is older than the Internet itself. Approved by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, Executive Order 12333 still governs most of what the NSA does. It is a sweeping mandate that outlines the duties and foreign intelligence collection for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. It is not governed by Congress, and critics say it has little privacy protection and many loopholes. What changes have been made to it have come through guidelines set by the attorney general or other documents. The result is a web of intelligence law so complicated that it stymies even those tasked with interpreting it.

Confusing though it may be, the order remains the primary authority under which the country’s intelligence agencies conduct the majority of their operations. Under its provisions, the attorney general has the right to authorize intelligence agencies to operate outside the confines of judicial or congressional oversight, so long as it’s in pursuit of foreign intelligence — including collecting information of Americans.

Monitoring the actual content of Americans’ communications still requires a warrant under 12333, but metadata — the hidden information about a communication that tells where a person is, who he’s communicating with, even the number of credit cards used in a transaction — can be swept up without congressional or court approval and virtually no evidence to justify.

According to an internal memo leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and published in August, the NSA saw more than 2,000 compliance violations with its 12333 programs in the span of a year, from March 2011 to March 2012.

A bill recently approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee would require increased congressional oversight of 12333, including more detailed reporting of what guidelines govern access to information and violations of those guidelines.

– edited from McClatchy News, November 21, 2013
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Intelligence officials admit that Edward Snowden's NSA leaks call for reforms

Edward Snowden.jpg (28056 bytes)The intelligence community’s reaction to National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks has moved through the typical stages of denial, anger and depression. Now it seems to be coming to acceptance. Two high-level intelligence officials have now acknowledged that the still-widening scandal around Snowden’s disclosures of classified information have actually led to a worthwhile public debate and warrant legal reforms.

In an opinion released September 13 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that oversees the NSA, Judge Dennis Saylor wrote that the Court should in fact make more of its rulings public in response to the public’s demand for greater transparency around foreign and domestic surveillance following the Snowden leaks.

Judge Saylor’s opinion followed previous revelations from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which revealed that the NSA admitted in 2009 to breaching FISC rules regarding the suspicionless surveillance of thousands of phone numbers. Clapper said “it’s clear that some of the conversations [Snowden’s leaks have] generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen.”

The Obama administration’s response to Snowden until now has walked a fine line between the need to discuss Snowden’s leaks and emphasizing their illegality. Even as Snowden was being charged under the Espionage Act while seeking international asylum, Obama said in June that he would “welcome the debate” around the NSA’s surveillance. NSA director Keith Alexander, on the other hand, has said in congressional hearings that Snowden’s leaks have done “significant and irreversible damage” to U.S. national security interests.

Congress, meanwhile, has already embarked on reforms. A bill proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley and Mike Lee just days after the first Snowden disclosures proposed reducing the secrecy around the Patriot Act to reveal more of the FISC’s rulings. For those who have long seen the Patriot Act as creating a dangerous level of secrecy around American surveillance, the comments of Saylor and Clapper came as a welcome sign that Snowden’s leaks may have lasting effects in allowing some sunshine into the classified realm.

Snowden himself has managed to take refuge in Russia and disappear from the headlines, putting the full spotlight back onto his bombshell documents. Here are some highlights from what has been learned so far about the NSA’s still-growing scandal.

• The British newspaper Guardian kicked off the Snowden saga in June with an order sent to Verizon on behalf of the NSA demanding the cell phone records of all of Verizon Business Network Services’ American customers for a three month period. In the following days, Senators Saxby Chambliss and Diane Feinstein publicly stated that similar orders have been issued to telecoms for the last seven years.

• For more than a decade, the NSA has been working to systematically influence encryption standards or insert backdoors in the code of commercial encryption software to enable it to access Internet users’ communications. The backdoor-planting projects have made “vast amounts of encrypted Internet data…exploitable.”

 • NSA has the ability to access a wide range of information stored on smartphones including iPhones, Blackberrys and those running Google’s Android operating system. That information includes contacts, text message traffic and location data.

• Snowden-leaked documents revealed the makeup of the so-called Black Budget, the $52.6 billion of government funding spent on classified programs. The budget showed that the NSA received $10.8 billion for the year 2013, second only to the CIA’s $14.7 billion. The budget also outlined how much telecom firms are paid for their cooperation with the NSA’s surveillance.

Newly-revealed surveillance targets for the NSA include the presidents of U.S.-friendly countries such as Brazil and Mexico and international organizations like the United Nations and European Union — going so far as to bug embassies and hack the U.N.’s video conferencing systems.

• The NSA found 2,776 incidents in which its staff had broken its own rules governing surveillance in the year leading up to May 2012. In one case, a surveillance operation continued for three months before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is designed to oversee the agency, first heard about it and ruled it unconstitutional.

• The NSA makes broad exceptions to its mission of only spying on foreign targets. That includes collecting and storing information on Americans when it’s judged to contain “significant foreign intelligence” information.

• A program known as PRISM reportedly allowed direct access to the servers of companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and others.

• NSA helps to fund the spying operations of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), in part to take advantage of the U.K.’s more relaxed regulation of its intelligence sector.

– edited from Forbes, September 9 & 13, 2013
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

NSA recruitment drive goes horribly wrong

Staff from the National Security Agency got more than they bargained for on July 2 when they attempted to recruit students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Attending the session was Madiha Tahir, a journalist studying a language course at the university. She asked the squirming recruiters a few uncomfortable questions about the activities of NSA: which countries the agency considers to be “adversaries,” and if being a good liar is a qualification for getting a job at the NSA. The session began:

Tahir: “Do you consider Germany and the countries that the NSA has been spying upon to be adversaries, or are you, right now, not speaking the truth?”

Recruiter 1: “You can define adversary as ‘enemy’ and, clearly, Germany is not our enemy. But would we have foreign national interests from an intelligence perspective on what’s going on across the globe? Yeah, we do.”

Tahir: “So by ‘adversaries,’ you actually mean anybody and everybody. There is nobody, then, by your definition that is not an adversary. Is that correct?”

Recruiter 1: “That is not correct.”

Recruiter 2: “… for us, our business is apolitical, OK? We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us ... We might use the word ‘target.’”

Tahir: “I’m just surprised that for language analysts, you’re incredibly imprecise with your language. And it just doesn’t seem to be clear.”

Later Tahir: “... this is a recruiting session and you are telling us things that aren’t true. And we also know that the NSA took down brochures and factsheets [from its website] after the [Edward] Snowden revelations because those factsheets also had severe inaccuracies and untruths in them, right? So how are we supposed to believe what you’re saying?”

And finally Recruiter 2: “This job isn’t for everybody, you know ...”

Tahir: “So is this job for liars? Is this what you’re saying? Because, clearly, you’re not able to give us forthright answers. I mean, given the way the NSA has behaved, given the fact that we’ve been lied to as Americans, given the fact that factsheets have been pulled down because they clearly had untruths in them, given the fact that [James] Clapper [Director of National Intelligence] and [General Keith] Alexander [head of the NSA] lied to Congress — is that a qualification for being in the NSA? Do you have to be a good liar?”

Recruiter 1: “I don’t believe the NSA is telling complete lies. And I do believe that you know, I mean people can, you can read a lot of different things that are, um, portrayed as fact and that doesn’t make them fact just because they’re in newspapers.”

Unnamed female student: “Or intelligence reports?”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was under oath at an open congressional hearing on March 12 when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir … not wittingly.” As we all now know, he was lying.

– edited from The Guardian (U.K.), July 5, 2013
PeaceMeal, July/August 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Some 54 countries helped CIA detention programs

WASHINGTON – As many as 54 countries allegedly helped with CIA programs in which terrorism suspects were held in secret prisons overseas or turned over to foreign governments for interrogation, a human rights organization said in a report released February 5. The report by the Open Society Justice Initiative said it focused mainly on human rights abuses associated with the CIA’s secret detention and “extraordinary rendition” operations after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The report, titled “Globalizing Torture,” said its information was based on credible public sources and reputable human rights organizations.

Extraordinary rendition involved the transfer without a legal process of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for the purposes of detention and interrogation. The program stripped people of their most basic rights, facilitated inhuman forms of torture, at times captured the wrong people, and debased the United States’ human rights reputation world-wide.

The report catalogs the treatment of 136 individuals and what help each of the 54 countries provided: hosting CIA prisons, helping capture and transport detainees, allowing the use of airspace and airports, providing intelligence and interrogating individuals.

 “Enhanced interrogation techniques,” a euphemism for methods of torture, were frequently used, including waterboarding (near drowning), cramped confinement in a box, forced nudity in the cold, sleep deprivation while being vertically shackled, and 24-hour bombardment with intense sound.

The governments accused of helping the CIA programs included some staunch U.S. allies, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland, along with some not usually viewed as U.S.-friendly, such as Iran. The report said Iran had transferred some individuals to Afghanistan, which transferred them to the U.S. government.

While President Barack Obama, after taking office in 2009, ordered the closing of secret CIA detention facilities, the executive order did not repudiate the use of extraordinary rendition. The report’s top recommendations were that the United States repudiate extraordinary rendition and that other governments refuse to participate in it.

“Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable,” the report said.

The CIA declined comment on the report.

– edited from Reuters, February 5, 2013
Peacemeal, Sept/October 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

CIA rendition details revealed by U.S. court case

The first comprehensive overview of how the CIA’s unlawful program of ‘extraordinary renditions’ was structured and managed is provided by a trove of more than 1,500 operational and legal documents that were originally disclosed as part of a New York court case fought from 2007 to 2011. In the euphemistically named renditions carried out after the 9/11 attacks, terrorist suspects were captured and taken to CIA-run secret prisons around the world and the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. Many of the suspects are alleged to have been tortured.

Cori Crider, legal director of Reprieve, a London-based non-governmental organization that works to enforce the human rights of prisoners, said: “These documents give us an unprecedented insight into how the government outsourced renditions, right down to the complicated paper-trail the CIA used to cover their tracks.”

The four-year legal dispute was waged by charter company Richmor Aviation and aviation broker SportsFlight over the costs of the flights. The private business jets sometimes landed several times during a single mission, and cost the U.S. government as much as $300,000 for one flight. A state judge ruled for Richmor last year, awarding the company $1.6 million. In May, an appeals court confirmed the decision, cutting the costs awarded to $874,000. But Richmor argues it still has not been paid in full.

The court files do not give details of who was on board the planes apart from a count of crew and passengers. In many cases, the flights coincided with the arrests and transport of some prominent terrorism suspects. During the trial, Richmor’s president, Mahlon Richards, described flights as classified and said passengers were “government personnel and their invitees,” according to a court transcript. But he also said he was aware of allegations his planes flew “terrorists” and “bad guys.”

The documents add previously unseen details to several notorious rendition cases, including that of Abu Omar, snatched in Milan in February 2003 and rendered to torture in Egypt, a case which culminated in the in absentia kidnapping conviction of 22 CIA operatives by an Italian judge.

Several European nations have been accused of cooperating by hosting secret CIA prisons or allowing CIA flights carrying the prisoners to use airports on their way to other countries. In 2007, the Council of Europe estimated that more than 1,000 CIA-operated flights passed over the continent.

The U.S. government used one aircraft for over 55 flights to Guantanamo Bay, Kabul, Bangkok, Dubai, Islamabad, Cairo, Baghdad, Djibouti, Rabat, Frankfurt, Ramstein, Rome, Tenerife, the Azores and Bucharest. All the private jets used were given State Department transit letters providing diplomatic cover for their flights. A spokesman said that the department has a policy of not commenting on “alleged intelligence activities.” The CIA has stated: “The program is over. This agency does not discuss publicly where detention facilities may or may not have been.”

– edited from BBC News and Reprieve.org
Peacemeal, Sept/October 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

CIA, MI6 helped Gaddafi on dissidents, says rights group

TRIPOLI - Documents found in the abandoned Tripoli office of Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief and foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, indicate that U.S. and British spy agencies helped the fallen strongman persecute Libyan dissidents, according to Human Rights Watch. The group said it uncovered hundreds of letters between the CIA, British MI6 and Koussa, who is now in exile in London. Letters from the CIA began, “Dear Moussa,” and were signed with first names only by CIA officials.

The current military commander for Tripoli of Libya’s provisional government, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, was among those captured and sent back to Libya by the CIA, Human Rights Watch said. Among the files discovered at Moussa Koussa’s office was a fax dated 2004 in which the CIA informed the Libyan government that they were in a position to capture and render Belhadj, who was active with a group working to overthrow Gaddafi.

That operation actually took place. Belhadj was captured by the CIA in Malaysia. He has said that he was tortured by CIA agents before being put on a secret flight back to Libya, where he was interrogated, tortured and imprisoned for seven years by Gaddafi’s security services.

The files shed new light on the practice known as “rendition,” used by the United States under former President George W. Bush, in which terrorism suspects were handed over to other countries for interrogation using “enhanced” techniques. Human rights groups have criticized the United States for sending the suspects to countries where they were likely to be tortured.

Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after Gaddafi abandoned his nuclear weapons program in 2004. But the depth of the ties could anger officials in Libya’s new provisional government, many of whom are long-term opponents of Gaddafi and are now responsible for charting a new path for Libya’s foreign relations.

In Washington, CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said, “It can’t come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats. That is exactly what we are expected to do.” A British government spokesman said that Britain did “not comment on intelligence matters.”

– edited from Reuters, September 3, 2011
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2011)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Release of secret reports delayed
Spy agencies foil Obama plan for transparency

President Obama will maintain a lid of secrecy on millions of pages of military and intelligence documents that were scheduled to be declassified by the end of last year, according to administration officials. The missed deadline spells trouble for the White House’s promises to introduce an era of government openness, say advocates who believe that releasing historical information enforces a key check on government behavior. They cite as an example the abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War, including domestic spying and assassinations of foreign officials, that were publicly outlined in a set of agency documents known as the “family jewels.”

The documents in question — all more than 25 years old — were scheduled to be declassified on Dec. 31 under an order originally signed by President Bill Clinton and amended by President George W. Bush. But now Obama finds himself in the awkward position of extending the secrecy, despite his repeated pledges of greater transparency, because his administration has been unable to prod spy agencies into conformance. Some of the agencies have thrown up roadblocks to disclosure, engaged in turf battles over how documents should be evaluated, and have reviewed only a fraction of the material to determine whether releasing them would jeopardize national security.

In the face of these complications, the White House has given the agencies a commitment that they will get an extension of an undetermined length — possibly years. It will be the third such extension: Clinton granted one in 2000 and Bush granted one in 2003. But officials said an executive order that has been drafted by the White House to replace a disclosure order that Bush signed in 2003 is meeting resistance from key national security and intelligence officials, delaying its approval.

The failure to meet the deadline “does not augur well for new, more ambitious efforts to advance classification reform,’’ said Steven Aftergood, a specialist on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “If binding deadlines can be extended more or less at will, then any new declassification requirements will be similarly subject to doubt or defiance.”

The documents, dating from World War II to the early 1980s, cover the gamut of foreign relations, intelligence activities and military operations — with the exception of nuclear weapons data, which remain protected by Congress. Limited to information generated by more than one agency, the records in question are held by the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Security Agency; the departments of Justice, State, Defense and Energy; and other security and intelligence agencies.

“They never want to give up their authority,” said Meredith Fuchs at the National Security Archive, a research center that collects and publishes declassified information. “The national security bureau-cracy is deeply entrenched and is not willing to give up some of the protections they feel they need for their documents.”

The White House is meeting even more resistance on its position that no information shall remain classified indefinitely. The White House is proposing that virtually all classified information — not just some categories — be automatically released 25, 50, or in the case of records about intelligence sources, 75 years after they are created.

The only way to assure that documents will reach the public, Aftergood said, is to allow classification to expire at some point. “This is information that is not just from years ago, but generations ago,” he said.

As the delays mount, so does the backlog of classified data to be reviewed. Still, even if such information is eventually declassified, that doesn’t mean that the public will get to see it in a timely manner. Officials estimate that there are 400 million pages of historical documents that have been declassified but remain in government records centers and have not been processed at the National Archives, where the public can view them.

– edited from The Boston Globe, November 29, 2009
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

CIA used ‘inhumane’ tactics in detainee interrogations

The Obama administration on August 24 released a newly declassified report by the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general that reveals CIA interrogators staged mock executions as part of a post-9/11 program to detain and question terror suspects. The IG’s report, completed in 2004, describes harsh CIA tactics including threats to kill one suspect’s children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted. The long-suppressed report was released under a federal court’s orders.

The administration launched a criminal probe into “unauthorized ... inhumane” interrogations of terror suspects during President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, which are described in the report. One detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — the alleged mastermind of the 1999 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors — was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation. Nashiri’s interrogators brandished the gun in an effort to convince him that he was going to be shot. Interrogators also turned on a power drill and held it near him in order to scare him into giving information up. A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with “imminent death.” The report also says that a mock execution was staged in a room next to a detainee, during which a gunshot was fired in an effort to make the suspect believe that another prisoner had been killed.

Other interrogators told Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that “if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children,’” one veteran officer said in the report. The IG concluded that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding — a technique that simulates drowning — 183 times. In another instance, an interrogator pinched the carotid artery of a detainee until he started to pass out, then shook him awake. He did this three times.

President Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines, but the report said they went too far — even beyond what was authorized under Bush administration Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited. The report also suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line. “Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this (but) it has to be done,” one unidentified CIA officer said in the report, predicting that interrogators would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.

A former U.S. official who has read the full, classified report said that it contained an entire section listing ways in which the CIA and contracted interrogators had “gone beyond what they were authorized to do — a whole variety of deviations.” The official said that what struck him most strongly was that the report suggested these techniques were “really not effective” in obtaining information.

As the report was released, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed prosecutor John Durham to open a preliminary investigation into the claims of abuse. Durham is already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and now will examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in handling of suspects. Holder stated, “I fully realize that my decision to commence this preliminary review will be controversial. As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law.” He added, “I want to emphasize that neither the opening of a preliminary review nor, if evidence warrants it, the commencement of a full investigation, means that charges will necessarily follow.”

An administration official said there are about 109 cases Holder wants investigated, including the ones cited in the IG’s report. Some cases were fully redacted from the report and remain classified, and these “raise allegations of abuse that are much worse.”

The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA’s detention- and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened, but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said some CIA officers have been disciplined for going beyond the methods approved for interrogations by the Bush-era Justice Department. Just one CIA employee — contractor David Passaro — has been prosecuted for detainee abuse.

President Obama ordered changes in future questioning of detainees, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under direction of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules on tactics. The manual prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.

– compiled and edited from The Associated Press, NBC News and Newsweek.com
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Secret CIA ‘hit team’ program terminated by Panetta

WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about an ultrasecret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former-Vice President Dick Cheney. Democrats revealed July 7 that CIA Director Leon Panetta informed the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on June 24 that the spy agency kept secret from Congress planning for a covert program begun after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and kept hidden throughout the Bush administration. Panetta had learned of the program and terminated it only the day before informing the members of Congress.

The secret program explored how to assassinate members of al Qaeda with “hit teams” on the ground — to assemble teams of CIA and special-operations forces “and put bullets in [the al Qaeda leaders’] heads,” one former intelligence official said.

Targeted killing of terrorists is prohibited by presidential orders banning assassinations that date back to the Ford administration. But the president can waive that order, said Vicki Divoll, a former CIA counsel, because there is no specific federal law that bans the practice. There’s also no legal difference, she said, between killing al Qaeda targets with a hit team or with an unmanned drone, because the “intent to kill a targeted person” defines an assassination.

Panetta has launched an internal probe at the CIA to determine why Congress was not told about the program and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he also is considering an investigation.

The incident has reignited a long-running dispute between congressional Democrats and the CIA, with some calling it part of a broader pattern of the agency withholding information from Congress. Congressional Republicans in return accused Democrats of using the matter to divert attention away from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) accusation that CIA officials lied to her in 2002 about the agency’s waterboarding of suspected terrorists. But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Intelligence subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said, “It’s not as if this was an oversight ... There was a decision under several directors of the CIA and administration not to tell the Congress.”

Schakowsky, said this is the fourth time that she knows of that the CIA has misled Congress or not informed it in a timely manner since she began serving on the Intelligence Committee two-and-a-half years ago. In 2008, the CIA inspector general revealed that the CIA had lied to Congress about the accidental shoot-down of American missionaries over Peru in 2001. And in 2007, news reports disclosed that the CIA had secretly destroyed videotapes of possible torture during interrogations of a terrorist suspect. She would not describe the other incident.

Democrats cited the new disclosure as one reason for a provision they have added to the 2010 intelligence authorization bill, now under consideration, that would forbid the administration from limiting intelligence briefings only to the “Gang of Eight” — the senior members from both parties on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses.

The Obama White House, as the Bush administration previously had done, has threatened to veto the intelligence authorization bill if that provision is attached, citing existing laws allowing the executive branch to conduct intelligence matters while limiting some highly sensitive information. House Democrats said they are negotiating a compromise to the standoff.

Schakowsky said she thinks Director Panetta is changing the CIA for the better, adding that the failure to inform Congress was indicative of “contempt” the Bush administration and intelligence agencies under him held for Congress. “Many times I felt it was an annoyance to them to have to come to us and answer our questions,” she said.

– compiled from The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times
PeaceMeal, July/August 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)